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Colorado Rockies still lead bona fide playoff chase

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What you need to know about the Wild Card race

After an immensely satisfying sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Colorado Rockies head to Phoenix where they’ll take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in a four-game set. You may recall the Rockies played against and were swept by these Diamondbacks just over a week ago. Everything I said in that series preview can pretty much be repeated for this one. The biggest differences are that the Rockies come into Chase field fresh off a confidence boosting sweep and the D-backs just dropped their three-game series against the Padres. The Rockies will also face Zack Greinke in addition to the three guys they saw in Denver last week.

Probable Pitchers and Schedule

Monday, September 11 @ 7:40 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, KHOW 630)

Kyle Freeland (11-10, 3.99 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (16-6, 3.01 ERA)

Tuesday, September 12 @ 7:40 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)

Jon Gray (7-4, 4.07 ERA) vs. Taijuan Walker (9-7, 3.33 ERA)

Wednesday, September 13 @ 7:40 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)

German Marquez (10-6, 4.27 ERA) vs. Patrick Corbin (13-12, 4.16 ERA)

Thursday, September 14 @ 1:40 pm MT (No TV, 850KOA/94.1)

Chad Bettis (1-2, 4.98 ERA) vs. Zack Godley (7-7, 3.18 ERA)

★ ★ ★

Because of the close proximity of these series I’m going to change the format here a bit and take a look at the remaining Wild Card contenders and break down each team and their remaining schedules. With just 19 games left in the season, the Wild Card chase should be pretty thrilling to watch.

National League Playoff Odds

Team Record GB Run Differential BP Playoff Odds FanGraphs Odds Five Thirty-Eight Odds
Team Record GB Run Differential BP Playoff Odds FanGraphs Odds Five Thirty-Eight Odds
Dodgers 92-51 -- +168 100.0% 100.0% >99%
Nationals 88-55 4 +157 100.0% 100.0% 100%
Diamondbacks 83-60 9 +137 100.0% 99.9% >99%
Rockies 78-65 14 +49 78.1% 80.5% 74%
Cubs 77-66 15 +71 68.0% 80.9% 69%
Cardinals 75-68 17 +74 31.1% 24.7% 36%
Brewers 75-68 17 +24 22.9% 14.0% 22%
As of September 11, 2017

Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 83-60

Wild Card 1 games ahead: 5

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 99.9%

Baseball Prospectus Strength of Schedule: .442 (best in MLB)

Remaining schedule: vs. Rockies (4), @ Giants (3), @ Padres (3), vs. Marlins (3), vs. Giants (3), @ Royals (3) (10 at home, 9 on the road)

Stat to know: The Diamondbacks boast a 3.85 xFIP on the season, the fourth best mark in baseball. The pitching staff has carried this team all year and helped out an offense that has been middle-of-the-pack in most major categories.

Under-the-radar player: Set-up man Archie Bradley has a Major League best 1.23 ERA in 66 innings on the year. He has 22 holds and has walked just 18 men all season. His 92 percent strand rate is among the highest in the league.

Analysis: The Diamondbacks are a near lock to make the playoffs with a soft schedule that includes nine games against the Padres and Giants. If the Rockies manage a sweep, they will pull within one game of the top Wild Card spot. Is that likely? Probably not, but I would have put their chances of sweeping the Dodgers somewhere in the zero percent range too.

Colorado Rockies

Record: 78-65

Wild Card 2 games ahead: 3

BP playoff odds: 78.1%

BP Strength of Schedule: .492 (13th in MLB)

Remaining schedule: @ Diamondbacks (4), vs Padres (3), @ Giants (2), @ Padres (4), vs. Marlins (3), vs. Dodgers (3) (9 at home, 10 on the road)

Stat to know: The Rockies bullpen, one year after being the worst in baseball, has been the most consistent part of the team. They have posted a best-in-baseball 7.98 WPA with a Clutch score of 5.91, both franchise highs over the course of a season.

Under-the-radar player: Don’t look now, but Carlos Gonzalez might actually be heating up. In ten games over the last two weeks CarGo is hitting .464/.579/.929 in 38 plate appearances, good for a 1.509 OPS and a 291 OPS+ over that time. After spending most of the first four-and-a-half months of the season as an anchor in the lineup, CarGo might actually be a key offensive force in the Rockies’ push to the playoffs.

Analysis: The Rockies currently sit three games ahead in the Wild Card race and have a 73.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. They will need a strong finish but because the NL Central teams face off so many times in the closing weeks, their chances are good to finish with a playoff spot. Only time can tell, but if the Rockies can ride the momentum of a Dodgers sweep, Rocktober is in sight.

Chicago Cubs

Record: 77-66

WC games behind: 1 (currently leading NL Central)

BP playoff odds: 79.8%

BP Strength of Schedule: .498 (15th in MLB)

Remaining schedule: vs. Mets (3), vs. Cardinals (3), @ Rays (2), @ Brewers (4), @Cardinals (4), vs. Reds (3) (9 at home, 10 on the road)

Stat to know: The Cubs have a 110 wRC+ in the second half, best in the National League. Their 93 first half wRC+ was good for 9th in the NL and at the All-Star break they sat five and a half games behind the Brewers and two games under .500. The offense has carried a disappointing pitching staff during their resurgence.

Under-the-radar player: It’s hard to call any Cub under-the-radar but Alex Avila joined them at the trade deadline and the expectation was that he would fill a backup role. However, a few days into his time with the team Willson Contreras hit the DL. Since taking over the regular job Avila has put up a 113 wRC+ and 1 DRS in 27 games. Contreras was reinstated Sunday but Avila should still have a meaningful role going forward.

Analysis: The Cubs sit atop the NL Central but currently are a game behind the Rockies for the second Wild Card. Their schedule is going to be challenging, especially with 11 games against the other two teams in the division fighting for a playoff spot. Still, somebody has to win the NL Central and the Cubs certainly have the most talent of the three squads.

St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 75-68

WC games behind: 3

BP playoff odds: 28.8%

BP Strength of Schedule: .493 (14th in MLB)

Remaining schedule: vs. Reds (3), @ Cubs (3), @ Reds (3), @Pirates (3), vs. Cubs (4), vs. Brewers (3) (10 at home, 9 on the road)

Stat to know: The Cardinals have the fourth lowest soft contact rate in the National League at 18 percent. Among offensive categories, the Cardinals don’t really stand out in any particular area but they rank among the top half of the league in almost all of them. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that the Cardinals make a lot of medium and hard contact. They have a lineup of guys who know how to barrel up the ball and make loud contact.

Under-the-radar player: Tommy Pham is 9th in baseball in wRC+ at 144. He’s slashing .306/.406/.509 with 19 home runs and 19 steals. The Cardinals didn’t even know what they had in him as he spent the first month of the season in Triple-A before injuries forced him to the starting lineup where he has stayed ever since. He’s quietly been the best hitter on the Cardinals and they wouldn’t be fighting for a Wild Card spot without him.

Analysis: The Cards have a tough schedule with 11 games left against the Cubs and Brewers. They get to close out the season with three road games against the struggling Pirates and then a seven game homestand so they are certainly capable of grabbing a playoff spot. The Cards always seem to have balanced teams with a lot of above-average regulars and the same is true this year.

Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 75-68

WC games behind: 3

BP playoff odds: 17.7%

BP Strength of Schedule: .489 (11th in MLB)

Remaining schedule: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3), @ Pirates (3), vs. Cubs (4), vs. Reds (3), @ Cardinals (3) (10 at home, 9 on the road)

Stat to know: The Brewers offense has been brutal in the second half of the year and their league worst 80 wRC+ has helped push them out of the NL Central lead. They have averaged 3.8 runs per game in their 52 second-half contests and their pitching is the only reason they’ve stayed in the playoff chase.

Under-the-radar player: Jimmy Nelson has been fantastic for the Brewers this year. His 3.15 xFIP is good for 15th in the league amongst starters and his 4.9 WAR is the fifth best mark in baseball. Unfortunately for the them, Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a strained rotator cuff. It’s a big blow to the team’s chances and hard to see his year finish like that.

Analysis: The Brewers have the softest schedule remaining (other than Arizona). They get to play 12 of their last 19 against sub-.500 teams and get the Cubs at home. Unfortunately, the loss of Jimmy Nelson really hurts their chances. That and the fact that their offense can’t do anything right now leads to their 17.7 percent playoff odds, lowest among the five contenders.

★ ★ ★

On June 20 the Rockies had a 912 game lead on the final playoff spot (they also had the best record in the National League) and there seemed to be little doubt that three playoff teams would come out of the National League West. While Rockies fans can certainly be upset that the situation has changed, the team is still in the best position of remaining playoff contenders. In any case, it will certainly be an exciting 21 days of watching baseball and scoreboards. Get your antacids ready.